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Ackman outspent by Herbalife in lobbying battle

William Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management, speaks at the Partner Connect 2013 conference, sponsored by Thomson Reuters, in B
William Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management, speaks at the Partner Connect 2013 conference, sponsored by Thomson Reuters, in B

By Svea Herbst-Bayliss

BOSTON (Reuters) - Hedge fund manager William Ackman, who is betting $1.16 billion that Herbalife is a fraud, spent $264,000 last year on lobbyists to press his case against the company, according to government documents filed in recent weeks.

That amount is dwarfed by the nearly $2 million Herbalife spent in 2013 on federal lobbying as the nutrition and weight loss company fought the billionaire investor's claims it runs a pyramid scheme. In an illegal pyramid scheme members earn more for recruiting new members into the scheme than for selling the products outside the network.

Ackman's $12 billion Pershing Square Capital Management hired three lobbyists in 2013, marking the first time ever that the New York-based hedge fund has spent money on Washington lobbyists, data from the United States Senate Disclosure Act Database show.

In October Ibarra Strategy Group began working for Pershing Square and earned $30,000 for the year, the filingshows.

The group, founded by Mickey Ibarra, a former Director of Intergovernmental Affairs under President Bill Clinton, specializes in Latino outreach.

Ackman has accused Herbalife of unfairly targeting minorities. Civil rights group League of United Latin American Citizens, which has asked California's Attorney General to probe Herbalife, echoed the fund manager's accusations. Herbalife said last month that it does not target members of minorities or low income communities.

The battle for the future of Herbalife is heating up this year with each side trying to press its case with Washington lawmakers as well as regulators, who may ultimately control the company's fate.

In the last days, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission refused to tell U.S. Senator Edward Markey, who asked them to probe the company, what they were doing on Herbalife. But each offered plenty of examples of having shut down illegal businesses before.

SEC chair Mary Jo White, who last year touted the benefits of shareholder activism, said the SEC's Enforcement Division has previously probed whether statements made about a business are "materially false or misleading, including statements regarding the compensation levels."

Ackman has said that 88 percent of Herbalife distributors earn nothing. That stands in stark contrast to some Herbalife distributors' testimonials where they tout lavish lifestyles as an incentive for others to sign up. Herbalife has said distributors results' depend on time, energy and dedication.

Ackman has forecast that Herbalife's share price will plummet to zero amid regulators' scrutiny but so far the fund manager is in the red on the bet, as Herbalife shares have climbed 61 percent in the last year. Since January, the shares have lost ground however, falling 17 percent.

Pershing Square also paid $84,000 to Moffett Group, run by former U.S. Representative Toby Moffett, who promises to bring clients' messages to the highest levels in Washington.

The bulk of its lobbying budget, $150,000, went to Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates, which describes itself as a full service government affairs firm.

During the same year, Herbalife spent at total $1.89 million on lobbying, according to public data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Herbalife paid $250,000 to government relations firm Downey McGrath, which counted Boeing, Microsoft and Time Warner among its past clients.

IBC earned $30,000 from Herbalife last year while $140,000 went to Ogilvy, $160,000 was paid to Podesta Group and $40,000 went to Glover Park Group.

Herbalife also spent $1.27 million on lobbying on its own behalf.

Separately the company made a $10,000 donation last year to Democratic Attorneys General Association, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Pershing Square did not donate to this group. California's Attorney General, Kamala Harris, the person the Latin civil rights group LULAC last year asked to probe Herbalife is a Democrat.

(Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; editing by Andrew Hay)

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